The Book Market Stares At Ubiquity

Random House gave me a Kindle as a gift for do...Image by fredwilson via Flickr

I was wrong about the Kindle when it first came out 18 months ago. I thought a dedicated device for reading was silly and that I'd be doing all my reading on an iPhone or a Blackberry. And I was pissed, and still am pissed, that you all have to pay to read this blog on the Kindle. That's why I refused when Amazon wanted to include this blog in its blog directory.

But what I missed and now understand is that the digital ink technology makes reading long form text on a mobile device as good of an experience as reading a book. Jacob Weisberg says in Slate this weekend that it is actually better than reading a book.

Jacob's column is well worth reading and he goes on to say that the era of digital books is upon us and paper books (for the most part) are soon to be a thing of the past:

But however the technology and marketplace evolve, Jeff Bezos has built
a machine that marks a cultural revolution. The Kindle 2 signals that
after a happy, 550-year union, reading and printing are getting
separated. It tells us that printed books, the most important artifacts of human civilization, are going to join newspapers and magazines on the road to obsolescence.

I got a Kindle just over a week ago. It has changed the way I think about reading. I have a couple dozen books on it and I go back and forth between them in a way that I have never done with books. I am in the process of reading about six books in parallel and I love the way the Kindle allows me to read what I am in the mood for at that moment in time. This is what I am currently reading on my Kindle:

The Forever War – Dexter Filkins
Rapture For The Geeks – Richard Dooling
The Fred Factor – Mark Sanborn
Bobby Flay's Burger Fries & Shakes
Buy*Ology – Martin Lindstrom
What Would Google Do – Jeff Jarvis (re-reading parts of it for a second time)

Granted, I was given the Kindle by Random House and they stocked it with a couple dozen books and many of the ones I am reading now I did not purchase. But when I am done with them, I am going to buy a half dozen more (at least).

We've seen this in every form of media that goes digital. It moves from an economy of scarcity to an economy of ubiquity. I have way more music today than ever before. I listen to at least a half dozen artists every day and sometimes a couple dozen. Same with video and news. Success in the digital era is all about embracing ubiquity and harnessing it for economic gain.

The reason Random House gave me a Kindle with a couple dozen books on it is that I spoke at their digital lunch series. During the Q&A, someone asked me about ebook pricing. I had yet to use a Kindle, but my reaction was immediate. I suggested they lower the ebook prices as low as they can (four to five dollars maybe?) and also consider selling chapters with an upsell to buy the entire book (as iTunes now offers).

Reading is addcitive on a Kindle. If authors and their publishers see that and make buying a book an impulse purchase (like a ringtone or a game on a mobile phone) they will see way more purchasing activity, more reading, and more addicted readers.

And as Jacob says in the closing of his Slate piece:

Reading without paper might make literature more urgent and accessible
than it was before the technological revolution, just like Gutenberg
did.

I have no doubt that this is true.

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